Its official publication date isn’t until next week, but there are few books we’re more excited about this spring than Wisconsin Supper Clubs, a project we developed with author Ron Faiola after seeing his terrific documentary film of the same name. Here’s Ron himself with his thoughts about the book and the entire supper club phenomenon, a great Midwest culinary tradition. He says, “This book is for all of those people who either currently enjoy the Wisconsin supper club experience, or have fond memories of past visits, or who are curious about the history of Wisconsin supper clubs and what makes them so popular.”
Why do you think people are drawn to supper clubs? What’s their appeal?
Their appeal includes scenic locations, unique atmospheres, and a level of service and quality of experience that a family-run place can provide. For both the regular customers and the staff, a supper club becomes their community meeting place.
For people planning a quick weekend getaway to Wisconsin who would like to visit a supper club or two, where would you recommend they travel?
I would suggest people travel to the northern part of the state where Oneida and Vilas counties meet. This is the heart of the Northwoods, and towns like Minocqua, Woodruff, Arbor Vitae, St. Germain, and Rhinelander are not only great tourist destinations but also feature so many unique supper clubs to choose from. In the southern part of the state, the Beloit/Janesville area in Rock County isn’t quite as touristy, but it does have several great supper clubs to visit.
You previously produced and directed the Wisconsin Supper Clubs video documentary. Was there anything new that you discovered when you returned to research the book?
After extensive research and recommendations, I would still occasionally pass by a supper club that was new to me while I was on the road. I realized that despite some closings, there are still a great many supper clubs out there. Many are under the radar, but still open and doing well, I hope. It was also interesting to return to many of the supper clubs featured in the film. It was good to see the owners again, and to hear stories about the number of new customers that were visiting because of the show’s broadcasts on public TV. Some people are even doing tours of several supper clubs featured in the movie. That people were responding to my work that way made me feel good.
What’s the most unusual dining experience you encountered at any of these clubs–be it food or a particular way of doing things?
I had two unusual dining experiences. The first was eating cooked chicken gizzards for the first time. They didn’t appeal to me, but I had to try them. The second was having fried turtle, which was a large snapping turtle freshly caught in the Mississippi River. It was very good and tasted somewhat like the dark meat on a turkey.
What is it about those relish trays?
A relish tray brings the salad bar to your table—something healthy to nibble on while you decide whether to get the king cut of prime rib or the all-you-can-eat fish fry.